WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – With seven Olympic medals, Shannon Miller is the most decorated female gymnast from Team USA.
Born in Missouri but raised in Oklahoma, Miller was part of the “Magnificent Seven” gold medal team from the 1996 Olympics. She also scored gold on the balance beam that year.
It was her 2011 diagnosis with ovarian cancer that she joined KSN to talk about.
During a routine pelvic exam that Miller almost called to cancel, doctors located a baseball-sized mass on her ovary. That year, she was diagnosed with germ cell ovarian cancer.
“Any kind of cancer diagnosis is a shock, it is something that really stops your world,” Miller said.
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It took a couple of weeks after the diagnosis for Miller to learn she would need to go through chemotherapy. Looking back, she realized she had been experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer for some time: bloating, stomachaches and weight loss. But being the mother of a new baby, she chalked it up to losing baby weight and normal women’s issues.
Miller calls chemotherapy the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.
“It was just at that point, relying on a lot of those lessons learned through sport, what’s the goal? What do I need to do today? What do I need to do to get through chemotherapy and to be able to finish the regimen? And I think that’s where you go, your mind just goes to what do I need to do today to get through,” Miller said.
Throughout her battle, her biggest fear was her son losing his mother. She and her husband had to have tough conversations surrounding if she would be able to have a second child.
Miller was treated at an Ascension hospital in Florida and ultimately given the all-clear by September 2011. She gave birth to a daughter in 2013.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest cancer of the female reproductive system.
Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center’s Maggie Ward oversees the nurse navigation program where nurse navigators follow up directly with every patient diagnosed with cancer to ensure they have the resources they need. She’s also a genetics practitioner for people diagnosed with cancer or who have a family history that puts them at high risk for cancer.
“The overall goal is if we can prevent a cancer from happening, we’re going to such as surgical intervention with ovarian cancer or catching at the earliest stage possible by screening even earlier,” Ward said.
Miller’s cancer was caught in stage two, giving her good odds through surgery and chemotherapy to ultimately beat it.
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Ward says many patients put off screenings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, they put them off due to being busy again.
Genetic testing plays a huge role in early cancer diagnosis but Ward agrees with Miller: adults must make and keep their yearly screenings and scans.
“It’s so important to be aware of your family history and what your risks are, and also discussing what you’re feeling what’s going on with you, including your own cycles and how that’s progressing,” Ward said.
Miller now does commentating for USA Gymnastics and even traveled to London and Rio for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. This year, she’s home in Florida.
“It’s probably more stressful now watching the athletes compete than I ever was stressed competing. Now I just sit on the edge of my seat and hope they do well,” Miller said.